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Two Carnegie Mellon Robots Have Been Chosen As Semi-Finalists in $2 Million Desert Race

Byron SpiceTuesday, June 7, 2005

PITTSBURGH-Two driverless HUMMERS developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Red Team have been chosen to compete in the semi-finals of the second DARPA Grand Challenge, a 175-mile desert race for robots, on Oct. 8.

The first robot to complete the course in less than 10 hours will take home a $2-million prize.

The duo, Sandstorm and H1ghlander, are among a field of 40 contenders, cut from a field of 118 after a series of trial runs conducted by DARPA evaluators during the month of May.

The 40 remaining vehicles will be put through their paces in a qualification event that will take place at the California Speedway in Fontana, Sept. 27 to Oct. 5. Their performance at the qualifier will determine the final field of 20 competitors that will race on Oct. 8.

"The Grand Challenge is the robot world's version of 'Survivor,' and today 78 teams were voted off the island," said Carnegie Mellon Robotics Professor and Red Team leader William L. "Red" Whittaker. However, he added, "Much of the competition is in the race to the starting line."

The Red Team vehicles navigate without human drivers or remote control. They sense, think and act using computers. Sandstorm and H1ghlander earned their invitations to the next stage of competition by speeding through a series of time trials while avoiding randomly placed obstacles.

"Our ambition is to put two robots on the starting line and one in the winner's circle," stated Whittaker. "We are thrilled to advance two machines to the next level of competition."

Whittaker noted that in the semi-finals, the odds are still only 50-50 for any vehicle to reach the starting line. "Those chances improve for Carnegie Mellon, since our alliance has two contenders remaining," he said. "We can't win if we don't start, and we don't start if we don't qualify, so qualifying is the next goal. On race day there is no second place, since there is only one $2-million prize. The odds are 20:1 against any starter, but we like those odds, and we like the payoff. The only sure way to lose is to not compete."

Red Team corporate supporters include Caterpillar, Intel, SAIC and Boeing, among others.

For more information on the Carnegie Mellon Red Team or the site visit, please visit: For more information on Red Team sponsors, please visit:

For more information about the Grand Challenge, see:

About the Red Team: The Red Team operates under the auspices of the Robotics Institute in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, a world leader in the development of mobile robotics. The Red Team is an alliance of individuals, non-profit, and for-profit organizations committed to win the Grand Challenge. Members include students, volunteers and professionals embedded from our corporate sponsors.

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Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |